The Oxford English Dictionary has 392 words with first citations from 1968. In that year, you could be amped on uppers; the Cold War brought us SALT and Reforger; Yippies and Hare Krishnas were seen by many to be signs of the downfall of Western Civilization; pagers, routers, and uplinks were at the cutting edge of communications technology; and if you ate too many chimichangas, you could work it off by doing aerobics.
Events of 1968:
- January: Alexander Dubček becomes the leader of the Czechoslovak Communist Party; in Vietnam, the Tet Offensive and the battle of Khe Sanh begin; North Korea seizes the intelligence ship U. S. S. Pueblo.
- February: The Tet Offensive is utterly crushed by U. S. and South Vietnamese forces, but achieves its strategic aim of shattering U. S. confidence in the progress of the war.
- March: 6,249 sheep in the aptly named Skull Valley, Utah are killed during open-air testing of VX nerve gas at nearby Dugway Proving Ground—the U. S. Army never admitted liability, but paid for the sheep; several hundred unarmed Vietnamese civilians are killed by U. S. troops at My Lai; Senator Robert F. Kennedy enters the U. S. presidential race; two weeks later President Lyndon Johnson announces he will not seek reelection; other members of the Warsaw Pact openly criticize Dubček’s reforms; cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin dies in an aircraft accident.
- April: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey premieres; the siege of Khe Sanh is lifted by U. S. troops; Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and riots in cities across the United States result.
- May: Students riot in Paris; The Beatles create Apple Records; Admiral Husband Kimmel, commander of the U. S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, dies.
- June: the S & P 500 closes above 100 for the first time; social activist Helen Keller dies; Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated after winning the California Democratic primary.
- July: The CIA creates the Phoenix Program to assassinate communist Vietnamese officials; semiconductor maker Intel is founded; Pope Paul VI publishes Humanae Vitae, which condemns birth control; the United States abandons its base at Khe Sanh; chemist Otto Hahn and physicist George Gamow die.
- August: The Soviets invade Czechoslovakia, crushing Dubček’s reform movement; riots take place outside the U. S. Democratic Party national convention in Chicago.
- September: Hot Wheels toy cars go on the market; Hawaii 5-O and 60 Minutes debut on CBS-TV.
- October: The Olympic Games are held in Mexico City, in which Bob Beamon leaped 8.90m (29.2 feet) in the long jump, Dick Fosbury won the high jump with what was then a revolutionary technique, and Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a protest over U. S. civil rights after winning the gold and bronze medals in the 200m dash.
- November: Richard Nixon is elected president of the United States; Yale University announces that it will start admitting women; the Oakland Raiders beat the New York Jets after scoring two touchdowns in the final minute of the game, which was not broadcast because NBC-TV cut off the end of the game to begin transmission of the movie Heidi.
- December: The Zodiac killer is believed to have killed his first victims in the San Francisco Bay Area, the spree will continue until 1974; Apollo-8 becomes the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth’s orbit and the first to orbit the moon, returning the first photographs of the planet Earth as a whole; writer John Steinbeck dies.
The words of 1968:
aerobics, n. The name for the exercise regimen was coined by Kenneth Cooper in his 1968 book Aerobics.
amped, adj.1 This amped refers to something that is loud, after amplifier. The OED has a second entry for the adjective amped meaning “excited,” which it derives from amphetamine and which dates to 1972, although Green’s Dictionary of Slang has the drug sense of amped from 1970 and says it is from amplified. (Complicating the origin theories, Wentworth and Flexner’s 1967 supplement to their slang dictionary records amp as a clipping of ampoule.) Given the strong cultural connection between music and drugs, I can’t help but think the two terms are very much intertwined.
bippy, n. You bet your sweet bippy was a catchphrase used on the television show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Bippy is a nonsense word carrying innuendo and interpreted to mean “buttocks, ass.”
blindside, v. An American football term meaning “to strike someone unawares.” The term was generalized within a few years.
bog-standard, adj. A Briticism meaning “basic, unexceptional.” The origin is uncertain. It may be a variation of box-standard, but that term isn’t attested to for another fifteen years.
cellulite, n. In 1968, fashion and beauty experts decided that it was bad form to refer to fat.
chimichanga, n. The deep-fried burrito gains a wider following.
cryptozoology, n. The name of the pseudoscience is taken from the French cryptozoologie, which appears in that language about ten years earlier.
design-build, n. A construction industry term for a structure which a single contractor is responsible for building, from the creation of the initial design through to completion.
do-rag, n. An African-American term for a scarf worn on the head. The do is from hair-do.
downplay, v. The phrasal to play down, “to minimize, de-emphasize,” dates to the mid-nineteenth century, but was reversed and combined in 1968.
Epstein-Barr virus, n. This form of herpes is named for British and Irish virologists M. A. Epstein and Y. M. Barr.
firmware, n. The middle ground between hardware and software is occupied by firmware, which are instructions semi-permanently encoded on specialized high-speed memory chips.
FOB, n.4 This depreciative acronym stands for fresh off the boat and refers to a recent immigrant. The OED has 1968 for a first citation. Green’s Dictionary of Slang has two earlier ones, dating back to Henry Miller’s 1939 Tropic of Capricorn, but these early citations are likely uses of the transportation industry acronym for free on board.
Fosbury, n. U. S. high-jumper Dick Fosbury perfected what became known as the Fosbury flop at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, and which has since become the standard technique for the sport. The Fosbury flop is where the jumper leaps facing outward, with the bar passing under his or her back. The technique was made possible by the introduction of foam matting in the landing area, which allows the jumper to land on his or her back or shoulders without fear of injury.
goombah, n. Goombah is a variation on the standard Italian compàre “godfather, friend.” It appears in American Mafia slang with the meaning of “associate, mentor.”
Hare Krishna, n. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness was founded in New York City in 1966, and takes its popular name, Hare Krishna, from the opening of the traditional Hindu mantra commonly chanted by the organization’s members. Hare Krishna is literally “O god Vishnu” in Hindi. (Krishna being one of the names of Vishnu.)
hooptie, n. This word began in African-American slang and spread to general use. A hooptie or hoopty is an old car. The Dictionary of American Regional English records hoopy with the same meaning from 1966, a few years earlier.
Klingon, n. and adj. The OED records Klingon from 1968, which is the publication date of a book that refers to the warlike alien race. But Klingons make their first appearance on the 23 March 1967 episode “Errand of Mercy” of the TV series Star Trek.
klutz, n. From the German Klotz “block of wood” via Yiddish.
LED, n. The light-emitting diode starts brightening our world in 1968.
male-chauvinistic, adj. While many today take chauvinism and male-chauvinism to be synonyms, plain chauvinism is simply excessive loyalty to one’s own kind or cause at the expense of others. The adjective male-chauvinistic dates to 1968, but the pairing goes back to 1940 and the label male chauvinist.
megavitamin, n. In 1968 biochemist Linus Pauling, who along with Marie Curie is the only person to have been awarded Nobel Prizes in two different fields, began to advocate for megavitamin therapy, or the use of massive doses of vitamins to cure disease. Despite his eminence, megavitamin therapy has largely been shown to be useless, if not dangerous in some cases.
Nasdaq, n. The National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, a computerized system for price quotation and later trading of stocks, didn’t being operation until 1971, but it was being talked about as early as 1968.
noogie, n. A noogie is a hard jab or grinding with the knuckles on another’s head or shoulder. It appears in print as early as 1968, but is certainly much older in spoken use.
out-of-body, adj. This year was when out-of-body experiences became a widespread sensation.
pager, n.2 The first practical pagers were in use by physicians as early as 1950, but they didn’t get their name until 1968, when they started to be marketed to other professions.
potsticker, n. The origin of potsticker surprised me. It’s actually a calque of the Chinese word guotier, from guo ("pot") + tie ("paste, stick") + r (nominalizing suffix)
pulsar, n. The first pulsar was discovered in 1967 and named the following year when the results of the observation were published. At the time what could produce the rapid pulses of electromagnetic waves was a mystery, but the suggestion was quickly made that pulsars were rapidly rotating neutron stars, a hypothesis that has since been proven correct.
quadraphonic, adj. and n. Coined after the model of stereophonic, the word quadraphonic first appears in the U. S. patent for a four-signal sound system.
Reforger, n.2 In 1968, the United States withdrew two army divisions from West Germany to deploy to Vietnam, but to demonstrate its continued support for the defense of Western Europe, it started an annual exercise for Return of Forces to Germany, or Reforger, in which it would practice deploying troops from the United States to Europe. The annual exercise was conducted until 1993.
reggae, n. The name of the Jamaican style of music was coined by Frederick “Toots” Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals in the title of his 1968 song Do the Reggay. The origin of reggae is unknown. It may be related to the Jamaican English word rege-rege “rags, ragged clothing.” For his part, Hibbert says the word just unconsciously came out of his mouth, and that he may have been influenced by the word streggae, used of a person who doesn’t dress well, who looks ragged. Others took up Hibbert’s use of reggae and applied it to the music generally.
rhotic, adj. (also non-rhotic, adj.) These linguistic terms appears a bit late. Rhotic is used to describe a dialect of English where the / r / sound is generally pronounced. A non-rhotic accent is one where the / r / is only pronounced in the initial position (e.g., farther is pronounced as father).
rip-off, n. The noun rip-off and its perpetrator the rip-off artist both appear in 1968, but the phrasal verb to rip off appears a year earlier.
router, n.6 There are many different types of router, but the one coined in 1968 is the electronic device or algorithm that directs packets of information to their destination in a computer network.
SALT, n.3 Another Cold War acronym, SALT stands for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks that aimed at capping the number of nuclear warheads possessed by the United States and the Soviet Union. The negotiations where proposed in 1968 and commenced the following year, resulting in an agreement in 1972. A second round, SALT II, resulted in another agreement in 1979, but in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that year, the United States chose not to ratify it. The first recorded use of SALT is in First Lady Ladybird Johnson’s diary from 1968, although the name undoubtedly appears in some earlier, yet-to-be-cataloged government documents.
schmutz, n. Another German word that comes to us via Yiddish. Schmutz is “dirt, filth.”
shtup, v. And another one. To shtup is literally “to push, shove,” but is more commonly used to mean “to fuck.”
trainspot, v. The verb dates to 1968, but the noun trainspotting for the activity goes back to 1951.
unisex, adj. and n. Androgyny became fashionable in the late-60s.
uplink, n. Satellite communications were also become increasingly more common.
upper, n.2 No list of 1968 words would be complete without the obligatory drug reference. An upper is an amphetamine.
workaholic, n. Patterned after alcoholic, those who voluntarily work long hours were first dubbed workaholics in 1968.
workfare, n. Modeled after welfare, the idea that those receiving government assistance should be required to work for it was given the name workfare in 1968.
Yippie, n. The anarchical Youth International Party, which took the name Yippie in 1968, modeled after hippie, was another icon of late-60s counterculture.
za, n. A university slang clipping of pizza.
These words are taken from the Oxford English Dictionary, based on that dictionary’s earliest citation for that word. Of course, that does not necessarily mean the word was coined in the given year; it only means that is the earliest date the big dictionary has for the word. In many cases, these words can and have been antedated. My selection is not scientific or systematic; it is based on what I think is interesting; sometimes they are words that appear earlier or later than I would have thought; others have a particular historical affiliation for that year or represent some historical trend; and others are just odd words. I’m avoiding back-formations and variations on existing words. Again, be warned that the coining of a word does not necessarily coincide with the invention of a concept. Often, there will be older words that express the same sense.
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton